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Harmonica Lessons: Hand Position

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Well so far, I've just
dealt with some very basic things.
Basically, how to breathe
through the harmonica.
And now, I wanna show you very
specifically how to hold the harmonica.
Because it's not obvious,
and you have this shape,
and there's a lot of different ways
that a person could hold a harmonica.
A lot of people first
pick it up like this.
And some people pick it up like this.
Some people pick it up with one hand.
And there's also the left and
right issue with the harmonica.
I do know a few left handed
harmonica players who play it,
what I would consider, upside down.
But 98% of harmonica players
play it with the low end,
the lowest notes, on the left.
[SOUND] Just like a piano would have.
And the high notes up
on the right [SOUND].
In order to do this,
especially if you're right handed,
the idea is you hold the harmonica
itself in your left hand.
And when you're holding
it in your left hand,
there's several different
ways you can do it.
I personally hold it this way.
And I have very long fingers, but
I also have very thin fingers.
Some of you might have fingers
that are fatter or fleshier.
Which won't work to your
disadvantage at all,
because you'll get a more air tight
seal around the bottom of the harmonica.
But what I do,
is I hold it in my left hand so
that there's lots of room for
my lips to be over here.
Cuz remember,
what I said to you is that don't be afraid
to put your lips over the harmonica.
Because in reality, not only will it
get the wetter part of your lips on
the instrument, [SOUND] but
it will get your tone fuller.
If you get your lips further
over the instrument.
Your tone gets richer as well.
So you've gotta leave enough room.
So my index finger is on top of
the harmonica, my thumb is underneath, and
I have the side of the harmonica
sticking out here.
Some of you might wanna have
the side of the harmonica more here.
I have it this way because it
gives me more room for my lips.
So I hold the harmonica to my mouth
And you'll notice that
one thing that happens,
I'm not even using the right hand yet,
that it changes the tone
It softens it a little because the tone is
running out along this arch on the bottom
of your hand.
And you'll notice that depending
on how you hold the harmonica,
the tone of the instrument can be
changed drastically by how you hold it.
Then now now the time has come for
the right hand.
Now this is a little bit unnatural and
it's a little tricky at first.
But basically, you have to form what
amounts to a hinge between your thumbs.
This is what goes on, the right thumb
goes underneath the left thumb.
And the right hand at
this joint over here,
runs into the end of
the left hand's finger tips.
So you're making this shape.
And you see that when I
hold it up like this,
my hands are pretty much totally
closing off the harmonica.
And you think, boy this is kinda
an odd way to hold an instrument,
to have it closed,
because it gives you the option.
Remember I said that
the thumbs form a hinge.
You can open that hinge
And close that hinge
This is a very valuable thing to be
able to do and I'll show you why.
Because when you're playing a harmonic,
your hand can add a lot of expression
as well as color to this tone.
And one of the things that's very, very
typical for older style folk music and
things that you might have heard in
cowboy movies is this hand vibrato.
You keep your thumbs together.
you can just play any old thing and
you can just
blow, draw.
Chords, two notes, three notes, one note.
It's called campfire style harmonica.
Everybody sounds a little different
when they do this kinda stuff.
That's one of beauties of our instrument.
Is the instrument is kinda
a glorified reed holder.
And everybody who plays it,
depending on the shape of their mouth and
the size of their hands, sounds different.
I could hand this same
harmonica to any one of you, or
any one of a number of
professional harmonica players.
With the same harmonica, yet
all sound different doing this
There's a lot of nuances
of how to doing hand
hand vibrato.
Call it whatever you want.
You can even get sort of a wa wa sound
I'm not saying any of that with my mouth.
Although as you listen it
almost makes you involuntarily
want to say wha wha along with me
I'm blowing one steady stream of air.
You can hear where the wha wha pedal
came from with electric guitars.
They probably got the idea from listening
to some harmonica player
You can do this thing fast
You can do it
Change the speed of it.
It's a form of expression that
has many different variations.
Okay, the other thing that I quite
often do, which you'll see me doing,
is I don't always hold my thumbs together.
Sometimes I'll just hold
my hands like this
And just sorta shape the sound that
comes out of the harmonica like that.
When I play jazz on the harmonica I tend
to not do too much of this wah-wah and
campfire sounding things and I'll just
want more of a straight ahead sound.
And when I want that sound, I just
hold the harmonically kinda naturally.
And, this brings up another subject.
I'm sitting down right now for
teaching purposes.
When I perform, I generally like to stand.
But if I am sitting or if I'm standing,
one of the most important
things is to have good posture.
A lot of times the harmonica player
will come to me or lessons and
he'll sit down and
he'll start doing like this.
I say stop you're all bent over,
you're all hunched over.
How you gonna get, be able to breathe,
when you play like this?
The important thing is Expanded,
and this is one of the real
challenges to harmonica players.
Because when we play like this,
there's a tendency for
us to roll our shoulders in and
hunch over.
This is really bad.
It's not good for your back,
it's not good for your shoulders,
it's not good for
your harmonica player either.
So even though these two
things seem contradictory,
hold the harmonica with two hands.
Keep your elbows kinda out.
Sometimes people have made fun of me,
they say I look like a bird
flapping when I'm playing.
But I'd rather look like a bird flapping
then be standing here like this with my
elbows in and my shoulders all
hunched over and running out of air.
So this is a very important
thing is sit up straight,
stand up straight, whatever it might be.
And if you're standing in front
of a microphone on stage,
make sure that the microphone
is high enough for you.
That you're not bending over to
accommodate where the microphone is.
Where someone might have set it up.
Me being 6' 4, I quite often have
this problem that they usually
don't have the microphone high enough for
me, I have to pull it up.
So posture, it's really, really important
because the more harmonica playing you do,
the more hours a day you're
going to spend doing this.
And if you do it in a way where you're all
hunched over your necks going to get sore,
your shoulders are going to cramp up,
and, you're not gonna sound as good.